IN the wake of the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) coming to a close over the weekend, Draft Central will run through each of the 10 competing sides to look at the key stats and players of the 2021 season. The series continues with Southland Sharks.
Points: 91.3 (3rd)
Rebounds: 37.1 (4th)
Assists: 19.4 (1st)
Steals: 8.3 (3rd)
Blocks: 2.4 (7th)
Field Goal %: 48.3 (2nd)
After an impressive year last season in the NZNBL, Kelman-Poto took his game to another level in 2021, making the NZNBL All-Star 5 and being a dominant player across the board. The Sharks’ big man finished with an average of 18.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game, topping his side in points and rebounds in what was an overall even effort. He shot at 29.6 per cent from long-range, but capitalised 65.2 per cent of the time from the charity stripe. Kelman-Poto only had two games with single-digit points, and racked up 10 or more rebounds on seven occasions. His last four games were sensational in the Sharks run to the Final Four, with an average of 26.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists in that time. His best effort was 28 points, 11 rebounds and four assists against Canterbury Rams on July 15.
The other big man to team up in tandem with Kelman-Poto was Cunningham, who had a consistent season to be second to his All-Star teammate in both points (14.6) and rebounds (8.2). He finished third overall for the Sharks with assists (2.6), and still managed a steal per game. His field goal percentage was better than half (53.3 per cent) and he scored 67.4 per cent from the free throw line in 2021. Cunningham was the only other player with Kelman-Poto to start in all 19 games, and he had double-figure points in 14 of them. Recording 20-plus points in six matches, Cunningham’s top performance came against the Auckland Huskies on June 26 when he put up 28 points and 10 rebounds.
Whilst Kelman-Poto and Cunningham were the rebounding machines, Belger was the facilitator, with the American import averaging a competition-high 5.5 assists per games. Not only did his pinpoint passes into the paint and around the arc, but Belger went to town himself, averaging 12.3 points and 3.7 rebounds, as well as leading his side in steals (1.8). His shooting percentage was lower (46.2 per cent from the field), but Belger was ultra-reliable from the line, making 69 of his 82 free throws at 84.1 per cent. In his 19 games, Belger had some highs and lows, with 13 games in double-digit points, and two of those were 20-plus. He picked up two double-doubles for the season, with his best dime performance coming against Manawatu Jets on June 11 (22 points, 11 assists), but his best overall performance being a 23-point, eight-rebound and five-assist effort against Canterbury Rams on July 2.
Whilst there was plenty of depth at the club, Inger was another valued member of the starting side, standing up in 18 of the 19 games – and coming off the bench in the other. He averaged 14.4 points to rank third at the club for that stat, in the same position for rebounds (4.6). Also averaging a steal per game, Inger was important on transition, and shot a team-high 56 triples at 40.3 per cent, showcasing his deadly long-range accuracy. He picked up double-digit points in all bar four games, and three of those came in the first five matches. His best performance was arguably a 27-point, six-rebound, three-assist effort against Nelson Giants on May 23, though there were plenty of solid efforts throughout 2021.
Rounding out the starting five, Alonzo Burton picked up 13.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals, with a host of bench players coming on to provide important roles. The two standouts off the pine were Toby Gillooly (8.5 points, 4.4 rebounds) and Sione Helu (6.3 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists).
The Southland Sharks had a really impressive season, with a consistent starting five, something that was symbolic of the top three sides. Whilst not as dominant at home as the top two teams, the Sharks came agonisingly close to reaching the NZNBL final, and will be well placed for another crack at it next season.
Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL